There were 7,500 afterschool programs throughout the country making children's lives a little brighter.

The Carbon and Schuylkill County SHINE Afterschool Program is one of them.

During the 12th Annual Lights On Afterschool Program, held at Panther Valley High School on Thursday evening, more than 200 elementary school children from six area school districts, showed their parents, lawmakers and the community how the SHINE after-school program has helped them socially and educationally.

The program began as the children from Shenandoah Valley, Panther Valley, L.B Morris, Penn-Kidder, Lehighton, and Mahanoy Area performed the song "The Transportation Song." Shenandoah Valley students acted out the motions to the song, while the remainder of the students sang. Each school also performed a special activity during the program, including rapping, singing, playing traditional African drums and hosting a science fair.

Rosemary Porembo, superintendent of the Panther Valley School District, welcomed everyone to the event and talked about the success the SHINE students have had since the program's inception.

"Through the SHINE program, 400 children have been served in the 2011-2012 school year," she said. "The main focus is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)."

She noted that despite the challenges the children face, 74 percent were proficient or advanced in fourth grade PSSA science testing; 73 percent were proficient or advanced in third grade PSSA math tests; 72 percent were proficient or advanced in fourth grade PSSA math; and 90 percent of the parents have been involved with the children in the SHINE program.

"The afterschool SHINE program is a model for education," Porembo continued. "This program addresses the needs of the children and the families in the areas of health, education and human services. This program provides the measures to build the next generation of workers, leaders and good citizens. Today, you will experience well-spent government money."

Following Porembo's welcome, Donald Snyder, president of Lehigh Carbon Community College, commended Jeanne Miller, director of the Lehigh Carbon Community College SHINE after-school program, who was not able to attend the event because of a family emergency, for her dedication to the children and the SHINE program.

He then spoke of the program, which is administered through the college.

"The program is not only beneficial with the children, but it is also an opportunity for our students who are going into the teaching profession," he said. "They often learn what it means to be involved in a family. The difference between this program and many other afterschool programs is that engages everybody in this process local legislators, county commissioners and officials, school districts. It is a partnership and it was designed to make sure these children have the best start in their futures."

Peggy O'Donnell Harris, a UPS driver, then delivered a "special package" to Snyder.

He, with the help of two SHINE students, opened the box and revealed a drum, which was made and transported from Africa to the Penn-Kidder campus for the SHINE program.

Barbara Conway, superintendent of the Jim Thorpe Area School District, stepped in for Miller.

She explained about the STEM model that is utilized in the program and how these activities will help the students in their future endeavors.

She then introduced guest speakers state Sen. John T. Yudichak, Carbon County Judge Steven Serfass, and special guest speaker Anita Krishnamurthi, PhD, the director of STEM policy for the National Afterschool Alliance in Washington D.C.

Yudichak said he was thrilled by the program, and talking about his first experience with SHINE.

"Quality afterschool programs, like the SHINE program are valuable community assets," he said. "Programs like SHINE add value to our schools by providing a desirable platform for our children to learn and mature and they add value to our communities by providing direction for families looking to build a better future for their children. Not many programs accomplish this."

Serfass said the program continues to get better every year.

He commended the families, as well as the SHINE staff for their dedication to the children.

Krishnamurthi said she was glad she had the opportunity to attend so she could see first-hand how the SHINE program is getting kids interested and excited about STEM learning.

"It's wonderful to come here and see the excitement that is happening with these kids and how it is preparing them for the workforce of tomorrow," she said. "I am thrilled with what I've seen so far."

She talked about the importance of afterschool programs and what they do for the children of this country.

"We need to double our efforts to ensure that every child has access to a quality afterschool program, a program like yours. It's going to take all of us. We are in challenging times, but we need support from federal, state and local government; as well as the community and schools.

"The SHINE program is a perfect example of why it is so important to invest in afterschool programs. You're doing truly inspiring work, engaging and inspiring young people. I'm so impressed by the students and staff and the work I've seen here. Keep up the good work and thank you for all you do."

Following the speakers, state Sen. David G. Argall and Rep. Doyle Heffley presented representatives of SHINE with resolutions from the Senate and House of Representatives.

Carlos and Kate Gonzalez, SHINE parents, then told their story in the program.

They are the parents of four children, three that have gone through the SHINE program and one that is currently in the Right From The Start program.

Kate said she has seen how SHINE has helped her children educationally and socially.

Marie Becker, administrative assistant for the SHINE program, then asked six students to present gifts to the school directors who have embraced SHINE.

As the program ended, Conway thanked everyone for coming and showing their support of the children.